We Are European - Perhaps We Should Just Accept It

21/06/2016 13:17 | Updated 21 June 2016

You may have heard there's a referendum this week on the UK's membership of the EU, with voters across the country set to decide whether or not to leave or remain. Both campaigns have focussed - generally in the most negative terms imaginable - on the dire consequences of either outcome. According to the leave camp, if we stay we'll be overrun by immigrants and steadily cede control to Brussels, while those wishing to remain warn of economic catastrophe if we leave. Positive stuff all round - and no one seems to be asking whether or not we actually belong in Europe.

The answer to this quite fundamental question is, emphatically, yes. Our data, based on a comprehensive study of daily life in the UK, the US and 7 European nations, finds that in terms of our routines and how we spend our time, we are squarely European. Compared to the rest of the continent, the UK is very unlikely to be outlier in any respect. For key activities, that are a part of almost anyone's day - such as sleeping, eating and working - adults in the UK spend roughly the same amount of time as the European average.

Our closest neighbours, behaviourally, are Germany - suggesting that the debate on the future of the UK and Europe is not the result of fundamental differences in culture and lifestyle. Interestingly, the UK is more similar behaviourally to our European neighbours than to the US, which was also included in the study. If policymakers, businesses or undecided voters are wondering whether or not we are more similar to other EU nations or to the nation on the other side of the Atlantic, these data should provide an answer: as a society we are behaviourally more similar to Germany and France than to the US.

While we may act very similarly to many European nations, we do think a little different. In this sense, we are attitudinally adrift somewhere in the Atlantic, caught between Europe and the US.

In terms of what we believe about the world, and our individual outlooks, adults in the UK are closely aligned with our neighbours across the Channel - the Netherlands and France. The key attitudes that drive this alignment are where we place ourselves on the political spectrum (slightly right of centre), our belief that our country's main priorities should be national rather than global problems, and a lower level of tolerance than other European nations. Although the majority of people in the UK agree that ethnic diversity enriches life and have no objection to living next door to an immigrant, the minority in disagreement is significantly larger than elsewhere in Europe, especially Spain and Germany (our nearest neighbours behaviourally). Overall, one in five people in the UK say they would not want to live next door to an immigrant, the highest in Europe.

Every country has its own intolerant minority; in the UK this minority is just a little larger - and large enough, apparently, to separate us from the rest of the continent. The proportion is crucial - if one in twenty people say they wouldn't want an immigrant for a neighbour it is a patently extreme view. If one in five people say it, it becomes part of a much more mainstream political discourse.

There is no one view of life and society across Europe, but instead a broad array of different outlooks and perspectives. Perhaps here we could find the reason for why the UK can finds itself at a crossroads in its relationship with the continent. But attitudes are malleable and can change, while the fundamental drivers of the rhythms of the day are less so. Across every country in Europe, these drivers are the same - greater flexibility, greater deregulation of activities and routines, and greater digitialisation. In these respects we are, and will remain, European.